Basheer’s short story ‘Bhumiyude Avakashikal’ was adapted for a puppet show that was staged in Kozhikode.

I have selectively used words and phrases from different works of Basheer while scripting the play.

The endearing simplicity and universality of Vaikom Mohammed Basheer’s works also make them easily adaptable into a variety of media, from film, to theatre to painting and what not. Not surprising then that a successful attempt was made by a group of artistes in Kozhikode to adapt Basheer’s ‘Bhumiyude Avakashikal,’ one of the maestro’s well-known short stories, into puppetry. The staging of the 45-minute string-puppetry at the Town Hall, which was directed by filmmaker and theatre activist K.R. Prasad, kept the audience spellbound.

Basheer, his wife and an array of animals are the characters in the play. The show opens with Basheer reclining on his iconic planter’s chair, listening in peace to a gramophone playing softly beside him. He is content with his lot, having recently purchased two acres of land. His peaceful contemplation, however, does not last for long. A series of living beings from his newly-purchased plot, starting with a butterfly, appear in front of him. The author had mistakenly thought that he was the sole owner of the property. His wife, Fabi, soon appears cribbing about the nuisance of rats and centipedes inside the house.

Social issues

The story that touches on a range of social issues, which assumes greater contemporary relevance, ends with a pertinent proclamation from the writer – that the earth is not man’s alone. The director beautifully conveys this message by portraying that even a bat has a right to the tender-coconut though it has been grown by a farmer.

Prasad has thoughtfully brought in contemporary elements and contextual humour into the conversations of the characters to help the spectators “relate to it with the times.” According to Prasad, ‘Bhumiyude Avakashikal’ is like a “manifesto of Basheer’s literature.” And the influence of Basheer’s other works is unmistakable in the script. “I have selectively used words and phrases from different works of Basheer while scripting the play,” says Prasad, who considers Basheer as his mentor in all his creative ventures.

The production was specially striking as actor Nedumudi Venu and theatre artist Nilambur Aysha dubbed the sound for Basheer and his wife, Fabi Basheer, respectively.

The puppet booth, which was arranged like the miniature of a stage, complete with professional theatre lighting, was a rare visual treat. The show was presented on the booth by a team of artistes under master puppeteer T.P. Kunhiraman, who is a traditional puppeteer and a leading puppet-maker for the Vadakara-based Samanwaya Puppetry Group. He fashioned all the string puppets required for the show. His mastery over the art form and the dexterity of his associates were evident from the overall performance and execution of the show. “It takes prolonged and committed practice to convey the nuances in the behaviour of the puppets,” says Kunhiraman, who feels that synchronisation of gestures and body movements of the puppets with dialogue delivery is the key to the success of a show.

The possibilities of shadow puppetry were also well-utilised by the director. For instance, the scene of a funeral procession for rats that incurred the ire of Basheer’s wife was brilliantly visualised with shadows. Plus the background score, which even incorporated some bits of popular film scores, was remarkably well done by composer Salam Veeroli. Anees Basheer, son of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, who was present among the audience along with his son, Naseem Muhammed Basheer, and Nilambur Aysha were all praise for the show. “It was such a rare delight and honour for us to see this story in a brilliantly different medium,” said Anees. Dr. Prasad plans to stage the show at Basheer’s house at Beypore in October.